Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Status Of The Local Bourse

We have had more than 30 days of straight net selling by foreign holders of local shares. Thankfully we started falling way before the "across the board selling over fears of contagion with respect to emerging markets".

I would be the first to say that we should stomach some short-term pain on our shareholdings, just to have a change in government. It is easily worth the price. The rectification of past mismanagement will take some time. So where are we now?

What started off in Turkey, Argentina and to a lesser extent Italy... has somehow steamrolled to include Vietnam, Indonesia, the Phillippines and Hungary. To a much lesser extent, Malaysia and Thailand also were hit - thankfully it was muted at best.

Causes: a) fears of emerging markets debt contagion;  b) the developed countries kept interest rates low following 2008 to revive their battered economies, flight of capital went to developing nations seeking better returns - now that pendulum has shifted thanks to the "trade wars" and the US raising interest rates (an indication of a stronger domestic economy and inflationary pressures)

1998 Asian Financial Crisis Revisited:  The bulk of Asian emerging markets have much better debt levels now, and should not see a repeat of 1998, the ingredients are not there.

Real Issues:  The reality which will continue to hit hard will include Turkey, Argentina, Hungary, Brazil, Indonesia, India, and Italy (the last five will be less severe but still shaky). Weak governance and high dollar debt will be the undoing factors.

China:  China markets have also been rolled, thanks to the silly trade war started by the irresponsible and naive Trump. China also was grappling to slow credit growth and chomp down on "high flying big state link GLCs buying big overseas as if there were no tomorrow".


Our case is quite different. The local bourse has fallen in sympathy with the emerging markets rationalization but is affected by quite a different set of factors.

The Problems:  We are in the midst of "house-cleaning", while we are quite prepared to be patient, a few things are noteworthy. 

a) Removing of GLC CEOs and other BN appointees from important government positions - While I wholeheartedly support this, it also hampers all these affected GLCs to "move" or carry out projects. Nobody dares to negotiate contracts as the situation at the top is still fluid. This has to be managed FAST and QUICK. The longer we carry out this bloodletting, the longer the downtrend of the market will be. There is a very low-velocity number in the current velocity of money.

b) Tainted Companies - Those not in the GLCs bracket but 'tainted' listed companies are affected as well. Quite a number of these company owners are currently hiding in overseas waiting for the dust to settle. When the owners are not around and their fate so uncertain, these companies will do as little as possible.

c) Clean Listed Companies - They may not need to hide but since nothing is moving at the government level, it also meant the wheels of economic activity also grinds to a halt. 

Our PM and the Council of Elders must put in their strategy and action plan to work fast. More so when it comes to Malaysia because our country is highly dependent on the stock market as a major catalyst for domestic economic activity. Malaysia has one of the highest percentages of GDP that is listed on the stock market (over 75% by guesstimate) - that translates to a high correlation for market activity with the real economy.

#1 Catalyst - There is no doubt that the #1 potential catalyst for a revival in the local bourse has to be the "arrest of the top perpetrators responsible for the malaise, the demise, and mismanagement of government resources".

Is the delay due to the need to review and repeal the decision by the Federal Court which decided that the PM, cabinet ministers, AG, Menter Besars, and such persons are not public servants ... but that they come under the limb of "members of the administration"... and as such they are not liable for misfeasance, nonfeasance and malfeasance ... and any other related offences during their term.

If so, let's expedite the matter.

Financial Decision Making Mistakes

Investing is a lifelong experience and adventure, and sometimes a nightmare. Academic intelligence does not guarantee success. In fact, rote-learning and ivy league MBAs mostly lead to a decision by numbers or an aggregation of numbers and spreadsheets. 

By looking at how people make the most common decision-making mistakes in investing, we can know and understand better what makes good decision-making in investments. As I am still thinking through this, the list is not exhaustive:

1) The academic deduction does not equal right investing decision (the "trigger factor") - When the information in front of you and the amount of research you did agrees with you, it still may not be the right investing decision. Many years ago Warren Buffet warned about US' trade deficit and put his money where his mouth is by betting heavily against the US dollar over the past few years. He has lost heavily on that bet. 

All the economic and financial indicators point to an unsustainable trade deficit and consumption pattern. Where did Buffet go wrong? Timing. Timing is everything, they say. Although you may not be doing it perfectly, you try to get as close as possible, not a few years off, because even a year off the mark will ruin some careers. 

Arriving at the right academic solution is having the "right thing to do" lever at your disposal. That in itself is insufficient for making a correct financial investing decision. What Buffet lacked is knowing the "trigger factors". 

There are many investing situations every day, every week, every month... we cannot make a decision on every issue. We can only bet according to what we know best. Even if we know Alphabet is overpriced, we may not short because we do not know what the "trigger factors" will be for its correction. 

Having the opinion that Alphabet is overvalued may be an academic conclusion, I might act on that if I have a few "trigger factors" appearing in the horizon... it could be: "valuation of Nasdaq tech sector has jumped 25% over the last 3 weeks"; or "there has been a sharp increase in insiders (senior execs) of tech stocks selling over the last 2 weeks"; etc... 

So, beware of what is written and said by experts, a buy may be a buy, and a sell may be a sell, but prices would not move in the "correct" direction if the trigger factors are not apparent. An undervalued stock will remain undervalued and not budge unless there are trigger factors.... jumps in liquidity, corporate exercise, insider share movements, jumps in coverage, jumps in volume, etc... Making a decision based on academic conclusions alone is a half-baked financial bet. Make sure you have the "trigger factors" covered.

2) Expert talk (Anchor & adjust mechanism) - Many experts will say the same BS over and over again. Analysts, strategists and especially economists will come up with figures to justify their conclusions and opinions. 

Mainly, the figures are based on "anchor & adjust" decision making and not really sound in most cases. If you ask an expert what Bank of America's share price will be the end of the year - the expert will take current price and adjust upwards or downwards according to what he knows (banking outlook, company strategy, etc...). 

The problem with anchor & adjust mechanism is that you can only take in a finite number of variables. In any projection, we will take in 3 or 5 variables, sometimes even less. Whereas in reality, most actually require 20 or 30 variables, some experts may not even be able to note the 3 or 4 crucial variables in their estimation. 

A&A methodology automatically rules out "out of range volatility", they are not able to cater to that. For example if the GDP growth of Country A was 3.5% in 2015, an expert cannot readily commit to projecting 9.5% for GDP growth in 2016 - the variables under his justification table is not there to support such a hypothesis. 

Plus you will stand out like a sore thumb. That is also why if 100 economists predict the growth of US economy - I would not care about the weighted average but I would be very interested to know the two extremes' prediction and their arguments. The consensus is BS, only the ridiculed is worth noting.

3) Intellectual integrity and muscle - Many experts do not have the intellectual integrity or muscle to support their opinions or platforms. Shouting and volume alone (especially by American business commentators on TV) do not add to credibility. Good conclusions are always defensible, always persuasive and usually sheds some "new light" on the matter.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Generic Pasta Recipe

Nowadays everyone can be a chef, just follow the thousands of recipes on YouTube. What is a generic pasta recipe? Here are a few tips on how to do a good pasta. It is for home cooks who don't want to make their own pasta or sauces. Just buy decent pasta and pasta sauces and cook them yourselves.

Decent and widely available pasta:  De Cecco is my pick

Good sauces:  Paul Newman's sauces are pretty good, SACLA (my favourite), Mezzetta

Chillies: Try not to use fresh chillies, does not go that well with pasta. Use dried chillies, soak in water first before chopping them up, otherwise won't be spicy in the pasta dish.

Mince Meats: Pork, beef or lamb minces (or even chicken mince... but my fav is still lamb) go well with basic pasta dishes with any off the shelf sauces.

Marination of mince meats: This is the critical part of what makes a really good pasta dish. While there are hundreds of combinations, my favoured marination is: Use 2 tbs shallot oil, 1 tbs ginger oil, a pinch of sea salt, a liberal sprinkling of white pepper and ground black pepper, 1 tbs of chili oil if you like it spicy. Mix and let it sit in fridge for at least 2 hours.

Start The Cooking: You can use olive oil but I prefer butter, a generous dollop on low heat with 1 tsp minced garlic. Then add minced meat and cook until well done. Then use cooking cream to bind the bloody thing together, not a lot, just 3-4 tbs. However cooking cream is optional. Taste, then add sea salt as to your preference.

Pasta: Use a liberal amount of salt into boiling water. Only put in pasta when water is boiling. Save some of water for later.

Fresh Herbs:  Can chop some basil, parsley or oregano if you are doing tomato based sauces. For white sauces, chop some rosemary, sage or thyme. Again, highly optional, but if you do, throw them in towards the last 1/3 of your cooking, not at the beginning.
(finish product without veggies)

Finish: Drop the cooked pasta into mix. Put in 2-3 tbs of pasta water and cook out till its got a good consistency. May use parmesan cheese to melt into the sauce (optional). I prefer to melt the parmesan in rather than sprinkle on top later. A key step is to add 1 tsp of sugar just to round off the taste.

Vegetables: Prefer squash, baby asparagus or snow peas (hard veggies). Cook together when boiling pasta. Scoop out first when half done as will be cooked alongside with mix later.

Texture: An important summary of a good pasta dish - there should be differing textures. Think of macaroni and cheese, there is basically only one texture, or porridge, boring. Thus the pasta, meat, sauce, veggies and condiments at the end should help you conjure a dish with 2-3 differing textures.

Sprinkle at the end: These are highly optional. Remember less is more when it comes to pasta dishes - do not attempt to put too many different flavours into one dish. May or may not go with the dishes, up to your own taste buds. Truffle oil; tobiko; parmesan; caviar...







Monday, June 25, 2018

Snap Comments - Coffee Shop Talk

Let's all take a breath. The issues that are being debated and discussed today are good issues to have, in a totally different environment. Our new government would listen and react accordingly. The public must also know everyone's got an opinion, and we cannot just follow the lowest common denominator to placate everyone. Sometimes we elect good people so that they will take the hard decisions. We also should be aware all are human and will make mistakes. Let's get on the path to recovery and glory for our country together. Discuss and debate issues without malicious intent but out of the goodness of our hearts.

Foreign Cooks - A very swift about turn. In short, a mistake by the Minister. Should have called for a study before making statements. Anyway, the immediate feedback was better than any study could offer. We cannot just say that locals do not want to be cooks - we lost a lot of Malaysian chefs and wannabes to Singapore because of currency factor; there are plenty of local cooks, just look at the fast food joints. Hence it is not a matter of pay alone but also working conditions and perception of working in hawker/mamak places.

I do agree that we should try to protect our heritage and culture in particular with hawker food. How about a minimum pay of RM2,500 if you employ a foreign worker as a cook? That would work out to be matching RM3,000 a month for locals as proprietors would not need to pay for accommodation.

But all that pales into insignificance cause we need to have more empathetic policies with regards to foreign workers in the first place. One, control the numbers. Two, solve the illegal immigrant workers issue properly and humanely. Three, set up effective bodies to care for the welfare and issues pertaining to foreign workers. Four, cut out the middlemen agents who are presently ripping off the workers. Five, come up with a cohesive foreign workers policy, how many we should have and for which industries - we cannot be relying on them to keep lowering our production costs.

Ringgit - The ringgit eased past 4.00 to the usd but largely on the wholesale negative stance on all things emerging markets at the moment. Note Tun M's statement, a wily politician, who said that he always thought 3.80 was a fair level just as the peg was long ago. That statement immediately caused all currency traders to stop being too aggressive to short the ringgit cause basically Tun has reminded one and all he could use the 3.80 peg again. Very classy and smart without needing to use actual funds to defend the currency.

Media Training and Focus - Looks like new ministers need a crash course in proper ways to deal with the media, and the nuances when dealing with "fired up issues". You must be seen to be on top of situation. If you are not, say you are waiting to be briefed on the situation. (Siti Kassim case, Police). Where was the Home Minister on that? LGE went off on his Mandarin tangent - stay the course, we need not explore a totally new prickly issue for now. Kula went and made a statement that obviously wasn't well thought out enough.

Mandarin - Finance Minister is wrong in his stance of defending the use of Mandarin, period. Wrong is wrong. Use the parliamentary language and the accepted business language of the country first and foremost. Just apologise and move on.

There is nothing wrong going trilingual but Mandarin should always take a backseat. If you issue a statement, yes you can do it trilingual. But not when you are giving new information first hand - it has to be in English or Malay first, even if the Chinese media happens to be the first to see you.

Ministers and Deputy Ministers - There are many who think that Ministerships and Deputy Ministers should be divided according to number of seats won by each party. Please la... let's no go back to the drawing board on what is a proper cohesive coalition. Of course it should not be very slanted but agak-agak is good enough. We should put in capable people first. We elected a PM, let him decide what is best. If they are no good, we can whack them in public and I believe this time Tun M will remove under performers. Before any of the sub parties try to claim how many seats they won for the coalition, please be reminded that without the name of Tun M as the leader of the coalition, many of those seats might not be won. Bear that in mind.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Kiddomo Universe - Where Playland Meets Technology

First of all, this is not paid content. I never take money for product placement for my blog. Thats why my blog is always free of ads and no popups. Hence I make zero money from my blog lol.

If you have kids between 2-12, you should take them to Kiddomo Universe at Level 3 of Starling Mall. Unlike other theme parks or playlands, Kiddomo merges technology with fun.

Kids get to create their own character, and later see that character be your avatar in various games. Kids can create art and see their art come to life. There's even craft and entertainment workshop.

Give it a go, its a family enriching experience. Parents are encouraged to participate together with their kids.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Things To Discuss Regarding GRAB

a) Grab Food - I don't know about you but Uber Eats was fantastic. I don't know why that even after 4 weeks of Grab taking over, Grab Food is just as bad as Food Panda. Food Panda, the app that is like a casual barista, kinda worked sometimes but you just didn't know when. Food Panda's problem is a lack of control over its last mile delivery. It is the management of a secure team of last mile couriers that spells the end for most retail/service delivery apps. Particularly in Malaysia where getting a permanent group of loyal and dedicated couriers is as difficult as getting someone off handbags addiction.

So far, Grab Food (and Food Panda) vs UberEats is like Malaysia's version of 7-11 vs Family Mart respectively. Btw just try and sign up for Grab Food, its a doozy (not).

Grab and its competition in Manila ...

b) Grab's Domination - Following the deal, Grab is largely a Southeast Asian app. Didi conquered China following a similar deal sale by Uber there. However it is not all clear plain sailing. There are still up and coming companies seeking the same pie: Ryde in Singapore; Hype and Ipara in the Philippines; and the biggest of the lot Go Jek, coming to your nearest Southeast Asian country near you soon from Indonesia.

Go-Jek enjoys a strong market lead in Indonesia, where it is based, and recently raised $1.2 billion in a funding round that included Google as well as Chinese companies Tencent and and the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek.

Judging from the Temasek parentage alone, there will be certain places where Go Jek may find it easier to operate in. 

Its not plain sailing for Grab yet. Just go to the Android reviews of the Grab app, its pretty scary. Not all is well at fairyland.

c) Grab's Goodwill Shortfall With Drivers - It is not a substantive issue but one which permeates below the surface. Many of those with Uber before can testify that Uber's system was "kinder" and "more understanding" of drivers compared to Grab's. The number of "banned drivers" is a touchy issue esp when it comes to Grab's "cancellation rules". Drivers may just have to cancel a ride because some customers did not show up for pick up, but having too many cancellations can cause the drivers to be banned.

“Riders are better ‘behaved’ and humane. Uber’s systems, with the 5-minute countdown upon arriving at pickup points (driver compensations) and a two-way rating system is fairer and educates riders to appreciate a driver’s time. I’ve only begun to drive on Grab but I can immediately tell that there’s a difference between the riders for both.”
 A former Uber driver who’s transitioned over to Grab
A few voices said something similar.
“I hope that all of the benefits on Uber’s system is implemented into Grab. There’s a reason why Uber’s drivers remain loyal with them. I hope that Grab listens to more drivers and riders to improve their system.”
Hence, it is imperative that Grab continues to improve its management systems and processes cause where there is room for improvements, there is room for the competition and Go Jek is a proven performer.

d) How Malaysian Is Grab? - Before Malaysians get swelled up with pride with Grab's rise and rise in the ride-hailing app industry. Let's look at just how Malaysian the company is now. No doubt we should be proud that two Malaysians had the brilliant idea and an even more effective execution strategy. But let's not kid ourselves here. Its been a long time that the Malaysian shareholdings' level has now been diluted to an unsubstantial amount. Its nobody's fault, many successful tech companies go through many rounds of funding and each level hence leaving most founders with a pittance.

It has to do with how important is funding/burn rate to a tech company. For example, Zuckerberg still holds 28% of Facebook, giving him a wealth value of $24b. Pony Ma still owns about 9% of Tencent but the company has a market value of $480b. However if your company is one that rides on subsidizing to win market share, rest assured you will need plenty of funding to keep hitting targets prior to a listing.

While there is no official shareholders' list for the new Grab. We can do an estimate by following the various rounds of funding. New composite shareholders for Grab: (~) denotes an approximation ...
1. Softbank (JP) ~ 30-31%
2. Uber (US) 27.5%
3. Didi (China) ~ 10-11%
4. Anthony & management ~ 6-8%
5. CIC (China) 3%
6. GIC (Singapore) 3%
7. Temasek Vertex (Singapore) 3%
8. China Hillhouse (China) 2%

So, there you go. At a $6b valuation (from last round of funding), we may surmise that Grab can aim for a $8-9b IPO next year, and yes their stakes will be diluted even further then.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

How Far Should The Bloodletting Go

Euromoney came up with an article which questioned how far should the "bloodletting" continue in finance in Malaysia. I bring this to a wider spectrum, not just finance but in every facet.

Despite public delight, there is a mood of some paranoia in Malaysian business and finance right now – and you can see why. Since the shock opposition election victory on May 9 restored 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad to power, deposing the party he once led, one person after another with ties to ousted prime minister Najib Razak has been removed from leadership positions in Malaysia’s key institutions. And the big question for many is: who is next? Is it me?
Other institutions said to be facing a great deal of scrutiny under the new government are the Securities Commission, which regulates the capital markets, and the fund for Muslim pilgrimages, Tabung Haji.

When the dust settles and after short-term pain and disruption, many in Malaysia think the outlook for the country and its banks will be better if reform is implemented as planned. In policy terms, this is exactly what many people wanted to happen. But it remains to be seen how much blood-letting has taken place in the country’s senior ranks by the time banks and institutions regroup for a hopefully brighter future.

I do agree that we have to draw a line cause culpability has a wide definition. Some may be caught up in the tangled web for survival purposes. Its the instigators and those who schemed that must be brought to law.

There are various means to curb the transgressors and reform the system without destabilising the working platform:

a) removal of previous senior government appointees in GLCs

b) removal of people with strong links to previous government and benefitted unjustly in private sector

c) removal of payments and allowances to smaller cohorts and gatekeepers

d) remove ineffective rubber stamping board members from GLCs and important finance institutions

e) give 'teeth' to regulatory and supervisory bodies, to that end, these people must be independent and professional, those who do not make the cut gets the cut

As for listed companies, its a grey area. Most companies are in business in some ways with the government. If the bulk of the business is not solely dependent on government contacts and panhandling, we should leave them alone.

The banks, almost every single top banks were tainted in some way, esp with the 1MDB case. Those who were critical in approving or rubber stamping knowingly illegal transactions should be punished. 

Its not just banks or construction firms, we haven't got to property companies. Highly irregular land banking deals should be looked into. Hefty fines should be issued in particular where property companies got sweetheart deals.

Heads must roll. Blood letting must proceed or else the message may not register sufficiently. If you were let go, just be glad there is no prison sentence. Move on. Plus a lot of the heads n cronies are rich from corrupt deals already. Give others a chance. Plenty of Malaysian talent, just go ask Singapore true or not!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Why Is Oil & Gas Leading The Market

We all saw the ones that got hit big time following the recent elections. Thats because construction are big ticket items and the likelihood of some big projects being pulled, scrapped or renegotiated is enough to adopt the sell first ask questions later strategy.

Why oil and gas stocks were relatively unscathed? My two bob answers:

a) It is so much easier to inflate contract value in construction jobs

b) The ownership of oilfields, not exactly under the jurisdiction of certain ministries

c) To develop oilfields, even if you give it to me free, is not profits, capital still has to be expended and returns are years down the road (same analogy if you were to inflate contract value)

d) The most defining factor was that oil and gas prices were relatively depressed over the last 3-4 years (thankfully) which meant more belt tightening and cutbacks by companies than new projects

While waiting for the construction big projects to settle down, it is only natural that oil and gas counters come to the fore.

What are the country's pressing problems now? Reduce the debt. Service the debt. As mentioned in my posting on managing the debt, a listing of Petronas is a viable option.

That option may be shunted for a better option for now: Petronas needs to ramp up production, yes, it is as simple as that. That way, with higher profits, revenues, and maybe even declare a special dividend to the government over the next 1-3 years.

a-z) a substantive refocus on E&P activities by Petronas

These are not picks per se but likely beneficiaries, in no particular order: Dialog, Sapura Energy, Scomi, Serba Dinamik, Bumi Armada.

p/s These comments above are not buy or sell calls but purely my opinion. Please consult your broker or investment advisor before acting.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

R.I.P. Bourdain

Almost everyone was devastated when hearing the news of his suicide. I will not pretend to know him well. His death is all the more sudden considering that he has possibly the best job on earth. I mean, please describe your ultimate job ... go to places globally, visit tourist sites, eating the best food there is, making snarky comments, meeting passionate and brilliant cooks, voicing your opinions as if the world cares about them, be free to perform your vices on camera (be it alcohol or ciggies) and getting paid well.

Why we feel so connected to Bourdain. He is us, he makes it so easy to live vicariously through him when we watch his shows. We are him when he is traveling, eating, enjoying life, passing commentary on life and its gentler purposes, reflecting on harsher realities together, ruminating on unanswerable questions which we all ponder ...

One thing the media has not focused on was the cause for his demons, much like for Robin Williams, was their previous liberal use of coke and heroin. Even if you managed to rid yourself of those addictions later in life, there will be instances where they can still haunt you later in life.

 Bourdain made the world smaller, made the world a more friendly place, made us look at how similar we all are. He made us look at our own humanity.

During what would be his final interview with PEOPLE, celebrity chef and gifted wordsmith Anthony Bourdain described himself as “happy” and spoke about his young daughter, whose birth motivated him to readjust his approach to life.

“There have been times, honestly, in my life that I figured, ‘I’ve had a good run — why not just do this stupid thing, this selfish thing… jump off a cliff into water of indeterminate depth,'” he said, recalling something he said he’d once done for his Travel Channel show.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Songs We Sung Before With Desperation, But Now With Hope and Joy

You cannot possibly get the lyrics to totally be in sync with what Malaysia just went through. There are enough parts in these songs for us to sing with gusto.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Business Lessons In China, HK, Taiwan Based On The Zhang Zhiyi's Experience

Boy, I am so happy to be able to talk about Zhang Zhiyi in my blog on Asian business. Can you imagine that? Many years ago, Zhang had a wonderful 12 months thanks to Memoirs of A Geisha, but suffered enormous criticism over her role, which involved being involved with a Japanese man... in a movie role. 

I am not even going to go into how low-brow and uneducated an opinion it is to be offended by that MOVIE ROLE. You'd think things would die down..., NO... Zhang appeared magnificently in the  Oscars that year (presenting the Oscar to Crash), and even presented and she spoke surprisingly well in English. 

Was that good enough for the media? Apparently not. The media in China, HK and Taiwan have plenty to say about Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi and most of it is downright vicious. 

Hollywood was enthralled with Zhang's beauty in Memoirs Of A Geisha, but it was her turn in House of Flying Daggers that captivated my attention. After her role as a presenter in the Oscars, this was what the HK papers had to say, and her gown was magnificent by the way. 'Zhang Ziyi's Armani evening gown made her look so flat-chested it was scary' HK's Sing Tao Daily said in a headline. 

She has said previously the venom has to do with Hong Kongers' deeply entrenched bias against mainland Chinese, who are viewed as bumpkins and gold diggers. 'They think, 'How can you be an international movie star? You are only from China.' For them, China is like the countryside,' Zhang said in an interview with The Sunday Times of London in 2004.
Such evidence is found in a 2004 article in HK's Next magazine, a popular weekly known for its hard-charging paparazzi. It printed a photo allegedly showing Zhang squatting down to check out the bottom shelf in a store. A caption read: 'Miss Zhang displays the special trait of our motherland's compatriots: spreading her legs wide and squatting down.' People can often be seen squatting in China in crowded places - such as railroad stations - where the ground is too dirty for sitting and there is limited public seating. 

Zhang's rapid rise and ongoing success may also have bred envy. Many Hong Kong publications made sure their knives were extra-sharp for the Oscars, where she presented the award for best editing. A headline in Apple Daily ripped into her English: 'She still can't change her English with a Beijing country accent. She didn't pronounce the 'r' in the winning movie Crash properly.' 

This one really irked me, when do you find an average HK person speaking English well?? So what if she's got a Beijing accent, she's from Beijing isn't she? Nobody faults Antonio Banderas for speaking English with a Spanish accent!!! Or Gerard Depardieu for speaking English with the clipped French accent?? Does Apple Daily's editor even understand what is good English and what is accent? I mean, seriously, Zhang's intonation and pronunciation are so much better than Jackie Chan - do we see any HK papers savaging Jackie's English??

Sing Tao Daily said she read her cue card with 'quivering lips' and her pronunciation of Crash sounded more like that for the toothpaste Crest. The Ming Pao Daily noted that she forgot to hug or shake hands with the award winner, though it conceded that her English was improving. Hong Kong writers also savaged her Giorgio Armani outfit, a black beaded bustier with a crystal-encrusted grey skirt. 'Lacking in youthful vigor,' read a photo caption in the Oriental Daily News. Apple Daily hissed: 'Zhang Ziyi two decades behind the times.' 
While HK press were savage and venomous, Taiwan's press was another story. 'Zhang Ziyi's English rolls off her tongue,' said Taiwan's Liberty Times. Another Taiwanese newspaper, the Min Sheng Daily, said 'Zhang Ziyi's English is no longer poor'

In China, there is still a strong undercurrent that they cannot accept that she has to "sleep" with a Japanese man, even though it was in a movie. Playing a Japanese woman already stirred open some wounds which have not healed properly for many years. China found it hard to "celebrate" with Zhang's newfound international stardom but have toned down the viciousness of late.

Suffice to say, Zhiyi found all these nonsense trivial and even went and had a long-term relationship with a white American (as if to spite all of them). I admire Zhiyi for being able to rise above the crassness and live her own life well.

Business Lessons

1) Though most HKers would not like to admit it, deep down there is a feeling of resentment against how fast some of the Chinese from mainland have gotten rich. HKers feel that they have progressed much faster economically and up the developed country curve, and to make less money than them is an insult. This mentality prevails even when certain HK companies go to the mainland to expand - beware and be aware.

2) HKers not only begrudge the rich ones from mainland but also abhors how crudely they spend their money in HK especially - no class as they say. But most HKers also know they needed cash from China to fund the downtrodden economy in HK for the past few years. HKers can't wait for the good times to roll again so that they can pass crass remarks and shoo the mainlanders back to where they belong. 

3) When doing business in China, you are either with them or against them. If you have a fallout with the Chinese, well its not going to be a "agree to disagree" mantra. You cannot afford to have a fallout as some entrepreneurs have found out the hard way. Many would want to hedge their fortunes by parking funds elsewhere whenever possible. There is an undercurrent of uncertainty that you could find yourself on the wrong side of the turning tide of political sentiments too swiftly in China. 

4) Taiwan politicians will fight like mad with politicians in China in the media, but business-wise, China has been quite open in welcoming Taiwanese investors. Much of the open war of words is to appease the masses of both sides for championing nationalistic interests. But business has been going to and fro, especially from Taiwan to China in a big way for a very long time. 

Thus, you will usually find that anything China says will find the Taiwanese going the opposite way, mainly to spite the other party. You don't like Zhang Zhiyi, I think she is adorable. 

Hence when doing business with either Taiwan and China, you do not go extolling the virtues of Taiwan to China or China to Taiwan. Just do the business, even though they may actually agree with you opinions about the other country, its best not to say them out loud.

As the above are generalisations, they are bound to be exceptions. Generalisations applied harshly on everything will lead to prejudice and unjust discrimination. Generalisations are just tools for use to learn a bit more about something, not a divining rod.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Singapore My Friend

Singapore, you are our sibling. By proximity, by the number of Malaysians working there, by the number of brain drain cases, and many of us have relatives living in each other's country. We thought that maybe you would be happy for us now that we have changed government, but there are things said and done that maybe you wanted a weak Malaysia to deal with. That you may continue to siphon the brains and resources.

The Straits Times interview: Just come out and be clean.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan today (June 1) openly threatened Malaysia vowing to make Malaysia pay for expenses in addition to the contracted compensation clause of US$125 million:
“Should Malaysia cancel the project, Singapore will study the implications and exercise its rights – including any right to compensation for expenses – in accordance with the terms of a bilateral agreement signed in 2016.”
Wh can't you be happy for us? I am reminded that most of the pronouncements and reforms undertaken by the new government ARE EXACTLY the things many Singaporeans are craving for Singapore. Are you afraid that the new lease of people power and democracy in Malaysia will cause more Singaporeans to "demand for the same"?
Pragmatism is fine. But above pragmatism are fairness, justice and human rights. Why be so vigilant with the HSR cancellation? Singapore would immediately win a lot of goodwill just by scraping any penalty on that case. Its such a small amount but it pays strong long term dividends for both countries. Its an acknowledgment that the contract was undertaken by questionable motives by the previous government. Its not like we want to cancel HSR to spite Singapore. Just roll with it. Its a small price to Singapore.

This Used To Be My Playground - Not

The new dawn, new era, new government with changes aplenty afoot ... made me reflect on a story/joke which I heard a long time ago. I posted this back in 2006... now going through it again, it has new inferences.  Before we could only lament about the system.


Once upon a time, in my dream, I  visited my uncle in the Isle of Putrajaya, it was a nice place, hot and humid, occasional flash floods, plenty of natural resources... in fact very much like Malaysia. He took me around the island state and we had a wonderful time, but by the second day I was feeling ill, probably from gorging myself with all kinds of delicacies. My uncle said, no problem, and took me straight to Hospital PJ, apparently a heavily subsidised government hospital. 

At the check in counter, my uncle chatted intimately with the Head Matron for a few minutes. He came back and said, we should be able to get in and out quick. He told me there were three types of physicians I could see, all cost the same - traditional medicine department, western medicine department or mental retardation department. There were 3 queues, one to each of the respective departments, the longest being for western medicine, I think there were about 50 people. The traditional medicine line was shorter with just 20 people, about the same for those suspicious looking types lining for mental treatment.

Naturally, I ruled out the third option, and told my uncle that I preferred traditional medicine as the line was shorter. My uncle whispered to the Head Matron and she held my hand leading me to go pass the queue to traditional medicine. 

I was shocked and embarrassed at the same time. I mean, to jump the queue of 20 people in front of me, they must be waiting for at least 2 hours before they get to see the doctor. Plus I was fearing that someone in the queue might jump out and curse at my queue jumping for no apparent reason - I mean, I wasn't the sickest one there by a mile, and I am certainly not even near my retirement age, and I am certainly not physically handicapped in any way (that I know of). But the people in the queue were quiet, some even nodded to me as I passed them. 

The doctor treated me patiently and thoroughly, and as I walked back out past the line of people, some even smiled and waved goodbye. My shock and embarrassment have turned into a power trip, I remember thinking "Hey, this is cool, I jumped queue and no one even showed me ugly faces... man, my uncle must know some important people here". It felt good. It felt so good that I turned to my uncle and said, "Well, since I am here, you think I could also visit the western medicine doctor?" Half hoping not to offend my uncle, but he said it was "No problem". We did the same thing again, only this time, the queue was much longer, but the same response I got. I was feeling quite full of myself, it felt like walking on air, exaggerated self-importance is a wonderful feeling I say. Heck, initially I felt sorry for those in the queue, but that kinda evaporated by now.

Coming out of the western physician's office, an outrageous thought crossed my mind, why don't I visit the mental physician too, just for the fun of it. I told my uncle that, and he whispered to the Head Matron, and off we went, passing each weird looking person in the queue to the mental department. I looked at each of them as I walked past them, some stared blankly towards the ceiling, another just buried his face in his hands, then there was one with his mouth wide open making squawking noises every 3 seconds. I was almost at the door of the physician when a lady in the queue stepped out, stared me down, stopping me in my tracks. She was quite pretty too, but there was something weird about her. She was circling her left nipple with her index finger (non-stop). There was an uncomfortable silence, I couldn't stop staring and I didn't know where to look .... then she blurted out "Hey, who do you think you are.... don't you need to line up like everyone else ... or are you mentally retarded?" ... and then she gave out this bone chilling laughter that I will never forget. The end.

So, who are you - are you in the queue keeping quiet, why are we in line in the first place, are you the gatekeeper like the matron, are you like my uncle, who actually runs the hospital ... and who is the mental one in the parable?

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